When doing the right thing still means getting it wrong

| 29 Sep 2011 | 07:57

Chester - Tyler Hopkins has worked as a construction supervisor and project manager for 31 years. The 53-year-old Chester, NY, resident has been building things his whole life — offices, hotels, hospitals, schools, big projects for which there are plenty of rules and regulations, both federal and local. Part of his job has been to make sure all those specifications are followed correctly. So imagine his surprise when he learned that many of the handicap-accessible rooms, baths and doorways he built might not actually be handicap accessible. But let’s back up. Tyler and his wife Denise moved to Chester in 1987. While their two children went through the Monroe-Woodbury schools, they volunteered for any number of their kids’ extra-curricular activities. Tyler was particularly active in scouting and saw his son through to Eagle status. An avid hiker, camper and skier, Ty was outside as often as he was inside. Then a couple of years ago he started having trouble. After numerous visits to doctors, he found out he was suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly called ALS and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a fatally progressive neurologic disease. Eventually, it works its way through the body until it has claimed all muscle function. Having received this diagnosis Tyler, a natural optimist, set about doing what he could to keep his life active. This included a high-end motorized wheelchair and a van equipped to allow him to maneuver and lock into the passenger side. Combined, he and his insurance company shelled out between $50,000 - $60,000. It’s a small price for independence but therein lies the rub. Tyler’s disease has progressed so that he is now reliant on the wheelchair and has discovered that “handicap accessible” is often nothing more than words. “I’ve built hundreds and hundreds of hotel rooms,” he said, “and a great many handicapped bathrooms. We always complied with the law. Well, there is a vast difference between complying with the law and something actually being accessible.” Thick, luxurious carpet may be a nicety to the average Joe, but it is the nemesis of anyone in a wheelchair. “You have no idea,” said Tyler, “how hard it is to roll over carpeting.” Then there’s the way a door is hinged, the height of a toilet seat, position of grab bars, the softness of a bed and the impossible tub/shower combination. “All that time I thought we were doing everything needed, but we weren’t. We were just doing everything we had to.” In theory, the Americans with Disabilities Act made it so that a handicapped person could travel from one end of the country to another, visiting public buildings, staying in hotels and occasionally emptying his or her bladder without help from another person. Tyler and Denise recently took a trip to Vermont and had called ahead to question the accessibility of their hotel accommodations. Despite the hotel personnel’s fervent belief that the room would be fine, it was so untenable the couple ended up driving home in the middle of the night. He has had to find a new dentist. They can no longer patronize their favorite restaurant in Warwick. The devil, it seems, is indeed in the details. One has steps, the other a bathroom that’s too small. Tyler is not an unrealistic person. He knows that the world view isn’t going to change just because he found out it was wrong. Instead, he is interested in setting up an information network for and by people who are in similar circumstances. After all, they are the ones who know for real whether a thing is doable or not. Anyone wishing to share information with Tyler may do so by email to redfox3@frontiernet.net.